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Sketch: Humza Yousaf and Anas Sarwar are having a hope-off

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Humza Yousaf and Anas Sarwar are having a hope-off

A buoyant dentist bouncing up onto a stage, huge grin plastered on his face, might be a cause for concern to many. Particularly one who goes on to joke about having “inflicted more pain” on the people of Paisley than most. But not in this room. Drill down, and here he is a hero. A saviour. A light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

No, this is not the annual meeting of the orthodontists’ society. It is Scottish Labour’s 2024 debut and Anas Sarwar, dentist-turned-politician, is firing the starting gun.

It is time to “write the next volume of Scotland’s story”, he says. We can “turn the page” on the Conservatives this year and on the SNP in 2026. Together, he and Keir Starmer will be the new authors of the country’s fortunes. And much like Natasha Bedingfield, he’s staring at a blank page before him, opening up a dirty window and letting the sun illuminate Labour’s plans for government.

Except it’s a dreary, grey day in Rutherglen. So instead of illumination and signposts to sunny uplands, all we get is a downpour of warm words. Sarwar announces that Labour will set out detailed plans of what it’ll do in government… soon.

The SNP has “arrogance on steroids”. Arrogance with muscles. Arrogance with biceps bigger than brains

But an announcement of an announcement is not an announcement, one journalist points out. Would Sarwar care to provide any specifics? “I’m going to confront that head on,” replies Sarwar, before swerving to complain about the SNP.

But he does speak highly of his own record of achievement. By which he means bringing Scottish Labour back from the point of total oblivion. Scottish Labour won the recent by-election right here in Rutherglen, did you know? Just in case you hadn’t heard. And that was all down to Sarwar, Sarwar boasts, because his first mission after extracting, err, replacing Richard Leonard was to “change the Labour Party” so it was ready to re-enter government. Like a set of shiny veneers.

“We weren’t winning elections because we weren’t good enough,” he adds, contritely. But now he’s won precisely one election… You can read between the lines. He hastily adds: “The job is far from done.” Hopefully no one will have noticed his hubris.

He moves on to speak about bringing “honesty, decency and values” back into politics. That gets the first applause of the day. Labour apparatchiks are more peeved about the degradation of politics than anything else, apparently.

Sarwar and Yousaf both insist they offer the  most hope | Photo credit: Alamy

“Politics has become a game,” bemoans Sarwar, slamming hard on the WASD keys. But the leader warns his opponents have no such qualms and will resort to “dirty tricks” and “culture wars” on the campaign trail.

And the reason is because the SNP “don’t want a Labour government” – which, to be fair, is accurate. The SNP probably isn’t going to stand on a platform to elect Keir Starmer as prime minister, after all. Is this an example of the honesty Sarwar says he will reintroduce?

He then accuses the SNP of showing the same arrogance which his own party was guilty of pre-2007. Except they are worse, naturally. The SNP has “arrogance on steroids”. Arrogance with muscles. Arrogance with biceps bigger than brains, flexing to please the crowds but doing none of the heavy lifting behind the scenes. Maybe he’s onto something…

Meanwhile four miles away, First Minister Humza Yousaf is busy flexing his economy muscles in his first major speech of the year. He advocates “economic dynamism with social solidarity”, whatever that means, and accuses Labour of having “nothing new, nothing bold to offer the people of Scotland”.

He’ll start canvassing in full Bee Gees attire, Stayin’ Alive playing from a loudspeaker

Then he talks about bringing back trends of the 1970s because nothing says new and bold like 50 years ago. That’s why he is publishing a paper on industrial policy. He also mentions flares and platform shoes – maybe that’s a sneak peak into his election strategy. He’ll start canvassing in full Bee Gees attire, Stayin’ Alive playing from a loudspeaker to insist his party’s chances aren’t dead.

“There’s a gap for a party that will stand up for Scotland’s interests in all circumstances,” the first minister declares, apparently forgetting his own party currently has 43 MPs. Or maybe just acknowledging they have achieved little in the last decade.

So, he announces, it’s time to nick others’ ideas. “There is much to learn from an opposing perspective,” he says. Even – shock, horror – from those who will “never support independence”. “That doesn’t mean those people should be dismissed.”

It’s the smallest, spindliest olive branch to Starmer, who he admits “is going to be the next prime minister, barring any catastrophe”. Could we be seeing the start of a happy friendship between Yousaf and Starmer?

Apparently not. In the next breath, the first minister argues that Sarwar does not offer “a single shred of hope”. He, Humza Yousaf, is the only hope for Scotland. On a wing and a prayer.

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